I didn’t need a new Batman. I never really warmed up to the whole The Dark Knight cult — Christopher Nolan’s trilogy was too dark for my blasphemous taste. Todd Phillips’ version of Joker (2019) left me deeply distressed. Not to mention the whole Superman vs. Batfleck thing in the critically panned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
On top of that, The Batman — Matt Reeves’ co-written and directed new standalone movie that opens in theaters Friday, March 4 — is two hours and 55 minutes long, and I have a thing for short, tight movies.
I didn’t feel the urge to return to Gotham City. Yet I enjoyed The Batman. A lot. Reeves made the right decision not to have his film be a traditional origin story. The filmmaker rightly assumes the viewer already knows most of the backstory of the tortured character — the orphaned rich heir whose parents were brutally murdered. We meet Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) two years into his The Batman project.
“The city is eating itself,” Pattinson’s voice-over informs the viewer in the Caped Crusader’s archetypical raspy, deep tone. “We have a signal now for when I’m needed,” he adds, explaining the signal is a warning and not a call. Murder, robberies, assault… They’ve all gone up since he started his vigilante ways. It’s a big city and he can’t be everywhere.
The movie is constructed almost like a horror film when it first starts. A villain is lurking in the shadows, watching his victims from the outside, getting into their lives unseen… A murder is committed in Gotham City and Batman is called to the scene by police Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright in a role that feels bespoke for the actor). It was that whodunnit element — albeit this is a twisty dark mystery to decipher — that hooked me to the movie.
Then Zoë Kravitz entered the scene, and two minutes into her first sequence I was already thinking: Couldn’t this have been The Catwoman instead of The Batman? I know, there was a 2004 movie with Halle Berry in the titular role. And Michelle Pfeiffer also donned the filed nails and skin-tight black suit in Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns. But it’s not like we don’t have a gazillion versions of Batman, right?
I started taking to The Batman when the enigmatic crime investigation is first laid. I surrendered to the movie thanks to Kravitz’s character. She makes it possible for her character and Batman to have almost palpable chemistry. “You assume the worst in people. Maybe we’re not that different after all,” she playfully tells him. Earlier on they’d talked about her thing for strays.
Other than Kravitz’s performance and a stellar ensemble populated by John Turturro, Paul Dano, Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgaard and Colin Farrell playing the Penguin in even more of a prosthetics transformation than Jared Leto in House of Gucci, I mostly relished The Batman’s exquisite cinematography. You can simply enjoy the film as a series of beautifully shot and composed dark images with traces of light by the director of photography Greig Fraser (Dune, Zero Dark Thirty).
Gotham City is presented here as a mixture of Times Square meets Blade Runner. Unrelentless rain, ubiquitous umbrellas and neons included. Those images call for a cinematic experience — I guess you’d need a smart TV with all the 4K and Ultra HD bells and whistles to begin to do justice to that baroque darkness — but the carefully crafted sound design also justifies the theater treatment.
The soundscape of the film isn’t overpopulated by music, but the timely inclusions of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” and Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” will make your hair stand on end.
I still think I’d have liked this movie more had it been half an hour shorter, but then maybe it wouldn’t have been possible to include the entirety of a nerve-wracking car chase at night, on the freeway, when it was raining and while driving on the wrong side of the road and dodging trucks. It’ll haunt the reluctant driver in me for weeks.
Over the years my favorite Batman iterations have been on the lighter side of things: the campy ‘60s TV show and Tim Burton’s 1989 version with Michael Keaton in the titular role. Reeves’ The Batman strikes a good balance between dark and serious but not overtly disheartening.
Yet the movie can be triggering at times. Some of the events depicted felt too close to home even in the grey irreality of Gotham City. From the celebration of a funeral inside a crowded cathedral with police officers pointing guns at attendees to prevent violence — they don’t succeed — to a coordinated attack of insurgents who organize online, too many things made me think how much we’re not that far from Gotham City.